There is a special atmosphere created when Helen Hayes winner, Jim Petosa, conducts a production and this Glass Menagerie at Olney Theatre is no exception. Petosa was, of course, Olney’s Artistic Director for 15 years, and treated us to an amazing cornucopia of wonderful shows. In 2002, he became Director of the School of Theatre at Boston University and began commuting between Boston and Washington. In 2007, Olney nearly lost him, but he was convinced to stay on. Although he hasn’t directed many recent productions, his Midas’ touch is clearly evident here in this Tennessee Williams classic.
Tom Wingfield (Michael Kaye) narrates the play from his memories of his life with his mother, Amanda (Paula Langton) and sister, Laura (Briel Banks). Tom’s father abandoned their family years ago and Tom has had to suppress his wanderlust to provide for the family by working in a shoe factory. Amanda-still trying to relive the glory of her youth with her many gentlemen callers–is an overbearing mother who tries to mold her reluctant children to her own ideals. Laura is an introverted young woman who has allowed her defective leg and limp to define her. She would prefer to retreat into her own private world of glass figurine animals and victrola records. In an effort to marry her off, Amanda convinces Tom to bring a friend, Jim O’Connor (Jeffries Thaiss), home for dinner. Jim and Laura do enjoy each others’ company, but when Jim understands the family’s interest in him, reveals that he is committed to another young woman and leaves. Shortly thereafter, Tom’s discontent finally takes control and he follows in his father’s footsteps and leaves the family to seek his fortune elsewhere.
The performances in this production are masterful. Despite having seen this play many times, I found these actors made the characters seem fresh, captivating and very real. Kaye’s submerged tension suffuses the character; you feel his frustration with the limitations his family has placed on him. Langton shows a faded Southern charm and beauty that makes one lament Amanda’s current situation. Most actresses portray Laura’s shyness in a way that stifles her inner beauty, but Banks creates a butterfly trapped in the cocoon of her disability. The chemistry between the three family members is enchanting and you can feel both their love and the frustration with each other. These were some of the finest renditions of these roles I have ever seen.
Just walking into the intimate Mulitz-Gudelsky lab, we see evidence of Petosa’s vision. Created by Jeremy Foil and James Kronzer, the set that greets us is an amazing two story set with an apartment on the first floor and two fire escape type stairs and balconies. In the background of the apartment is a maze of hallway type spaces that Tom as narrator haunts while he relives his memories. The titular glass menagerie is prominently displayed down center instead of upstage. Laura faces out to the audience when she retreats to her personal wonderland and we get to really see and feel her devotion to her keepsakes. She handles them with almost religious reverence. We see both her mother’s and brother’s reactions to her with the glasswork as they face out to the audience. This truly helps makes those scenes more powerful. Petosa does away with the traditional dining room table and just has seats around the table area. The chairs move away and leave the actors much more space and freedom to perform. Amanda’s wayward husband is represented by an empty picture frame that only accents his absence in their lives. The blocking is fluid and interesting and helps to keep the audience’s attention focused on the story including a very smooth and quick costume change for Amanda that happens while she is having an off-stage argument with Tom. Costume designer, Nikki Moody, does an excellent job of creating very credible and realistic costumes for the urban poor family.
Although many of you have doubtlessly seen The Glass Menagerie one or more times, this is one production not to be missed.
The Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams
directed by Jim Petosa
Produced by Olney Theatre Center
reviewed by Ted Ying
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.